Major Awards for VIU Mariners

February 10th, 2013

VIU Mariners dominate gala
Vancouver Island University takes honours for top female athlete, team and coach
Josh Aldrich
Daily News


As teammates, Dani Smith and Leanna Gildersleeve are not used to being in competition against each other, but that is the position they found themselves on Saturday at the Nanaimo Sport Achievement Awards.

The two Vancouver Island University Mariners women's volleyball players were both up for the female team athlete of the year award. Smith, the all-Canadian setter did edge out the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association Championship MVP Gildersleeve for the honour.

It was all part of a big evening for the VIU athletics program, driven by the Mariners volleyball team that won the CCAA championships on home court. They earned three of the 17 awards on the night as they were also named team of the year and head coach Shane Hyde was named high performance coach of the year.

Other big awards went to down hill mountain biker Steve Smith for male individual athlete of the year, cross-country star Erin Burrett who was named female individual athlete of the year and Nanaimo Timbermen captain Scott Ranger who earned male team athlete of the year.

However, the irony that neither Smith or Gildersleeve would have been up for the female team athlete of the year had it not been for the other was not lost on Smith.

"I can't do much without her and she can't do much without me, so we thought it was a sweet experience to be there, to both be nominated," she said. "(Gild-ersleeve) has another year left of eligibility to be nominated so I know she's going to do great things at the end of this year and I would not be surprised if it was her standing up at the ceremony next year."

The ultra competitive Gilders-leeve, a fourth year power, took it all in stride and was happy for Smith, a fifth-year senior.

Gildersleeve had taken two years off from volleyball, after playing two years for the Grant MacEwan University Griffins in Edmonton, where she was an Alberta Colleges Athletic Association all-star.

The opportunity to win a national championship was a big reason she came back, but now she wants a second.

"Last year was amazing, but it's going to be amazing to do it a second time with a whole new group of girls," she said.

Hyde is just glad he didn't have to make the decision.

"It could have gone either way, to be an MVP of provincials and nationals, how do you lose out? But then on the flip side you lose out to an all-Canadian and a member of the national team," said Hyde. "We wouldn't be here for sure without those two players."

The recognition the program received for their big year was well deserved after they entered the CCAA championships on home court as the No. 1 seed and then avenged their loss to the Mount Royal University Cougars from 2011 with a 3-1 win in the gold medal game.

In a bit of an upset, Ranger narrowly beat out Vancouver Island Raiders record-setting quarterback Jordan Yantz for the men's version of the award. Ranger led the Western Lacrosse Association in scoring for the second consecutive year and is also an alternate captain for the National Lacrosse League's Calgary Roughnecks. He was not at the gala due to NLL commitments, helping the Roughnecks beat provincial rival, the Edmonton Rush, 9-8 on Saturday.

There was no such controversy for the men's individual award as Smith had his big breakout year on the UCI Downhill World Cup circuit, finishing fourth overall, becoming the first person to ever sweep all three races at Crank-worcks in Whistler, finishing third at the world championships and winning his first World Cup race in Hafjell, Norway.

He beat out track and field star Joel Deshiffart and mixed martial artist Graham Spencer for the honour.

"In the biking world I'm represented a lot and put out there, so it's nice to be recognized in the local community, not just as a biker but amongst the rest of the athletes," said Smith. "I finished as good as I could last year, winning the last World Cup, and it's motivated me to train harder, and that's all I have been doing since that last race is preparing for my next race, which isn't until June."

He is now off to Brazil to take part in a mountain biking action film.

Burrett was also well deserving of the female individual athlete award after competing in 16 races last year and representing B.C. at both the National Half Marathon Championships in Montreal where she placed eighth and the National 10K Championships in Toronto where she placed 15th. She had four top 10 finishes in four different provincial championship distances and was crowned the Queen of Westwood lake for the fourth straight year.

She was already back competing on Sunday at the Pacific Road Runners "First Half" Half Marathon in Vancouver, where she finished fifth in the women's division with a time of 1: 20: 17.34. She beat out young Karate star Sage Thomas and race walk champion Katelynn Ramage for the award.

"Sage and Katelynn are both great athletes, so it's quite an honour," said Burrett. "My favourite memory was breaking the 80-minute mark in a half marathon, it's one I've been working for quite a while."